Ranking Chelsea's Greatest Positions of the Premier League Era

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: Frank Lampard and John Terry of Chelsea celebrate victory during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain FC at Stamford Bridge on April 8, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

It's no secret that Antonio Conte's Chelsea squad boasts some of the Premier League's biggest stars in the modern era.

The Blues have world-class defenders, midfielders and strikers who complete a team capable of going all the way in the Premier League again in 2017/18.

Indeed, some of Chelsea's current crop are arguably among the best players the club has had on its books.

Forgetting individual talent, though, what is the strongest position Chelsea have had in the Premier League era? Have their strikers been better overall than their midfielders? With legends such as John Terry at the back, has defence always been the No. 1 position to depend upon at Stamford Bridge?

Breaking down Chelsea's squads from the past 25 years, we've ranked all seven positions in the team. The formula is a simple one: putting the best players into the wider context of where they stood during their careers with the Blues.

For instance, Ruud Gullit was one of the world's best players during his prime, but when he eventually arrived at Chelsea, he wasn't the same player who had guided the likes of AC Milan to European glory. There were better midfielders in English football.

Chelsea have had eight first-choice goalkeepers throughout the Premier League era, so we've used that number to reflect the rest of the positions in our list, creating top eights for every position.

               

7. Goalkeepers

Chelsea's Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech warms up ahead of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Chelsea at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on February 17, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA        (Pho
MIGUEL MEDINA/Getty Images

Until the capture of Petr Cech in 2004, Chelsea hadn't boasted an elite stopper between the sticks at Stamford Bridge. His predecessor, Carlo Cudicini, was respected enough, but when it came to the talents of the day, the Italian was outside the best of the best.

The same goes for others such as Frode Grodas, Ed De Goey and Dmitri Kharine. They were reliable enough but far from spectacular.

Cech's arrival changed all that, giving Chelsea a goalkeeper who was superior in his position. Thibaut Courtois is also another world-class talent the Blues can boast.

Outside of that pair, however, Chelsea's goalkeepers haven't always been inspiring, making this the weakest position the Blues have had in the Premier League era.

Top 8 goalkeepers
Petr Cech2004-2015
Thibaut Courtois2011-Present
Carlo Cudicini1999-2009
Frode Grodas1996-98
Ed De Goey1997-2003
Dmitri Kharine1992-1999
Dave Beasant1989-1993
Mark Bosnich2001-2003
B/R

             

6. Centre-backs

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  John Terry of Chelsea poses with the Premier League Trophy after the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

What's this? A group of players including John Terry that doesn't make the top five? Sure, we can hear the outrage, and on the surface, we understand it.

But dig a little deeper and central defence hasn't been Chelsea's strongest position throughout the Premier League years.

Yes, Terry's partnership with Ricardo Carvalho was the cornerstone of the team's success from 2004 to 2010, but beyond that pair, the Blues' centre-backs haven't always been elite in the same way other positions have.

For instance, Marcel Desailly may have been a pivotal figure in the Blues' history, but he was in a gradual decline when he arrived after the 1998 World Cup. There was a reason Manchester United didn't move to sign him as they were welcoming the likes of Jaap Stam instead.

Further down our rankings, David Luiz and Gary Cahill have been big enough names who have commanded respect from their peers—both were in the PFA Team of the Year for 2017—but when we consider the depth Chelsea can boast in other positions, they fall just short.

Top 8 Central Defenders
John Terry1998-2017
Ricardo Carvalho2004-2010
Marcel Desailly1998-2004
David Luiz2011-2014 and 2016-Present
Gary Cahill2012-Present
William Gallas2001-2006
Frank Leboeuf1996-2001
Alex2004-2012
B/R

          

5. Right-backs/wing-backs

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 15: Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on August 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

It's not just because of Conte that we've created a section to cover two positions here. As far back as 1993/94, then-Chelsea boss Glenn Hoddle was using wing-backs in a 3-5-2 formation at Stamford Bridge. Ruud Gullit used them at periods, too, so it's nothing new at the club.

The right side of defence has been a big strength for Chelsea, especially when we consider some of the names who have featured there. Save for Albert Ferrer and Juliano Belletti, all six names on our list were in their prime as the right-back/wing-back in west London and were among the Premier League's best.

Branislav Ivanovic was arguably among the world's best right-sided defenders when at his peak, while Victor Moses creeps in due to the simple fact that, after just one season as wing-back, he has shown himself to be among the most able in the Premier League right now.

Top 8 Right-backs/Wing-backs
Branislav Ivanovic2008-2017
Cesar Azpilicueta2012-Present
Dan Petrescu1995-2000
Steve Clarke1987-1998
Victor Moses2012-Present
Paulo Ferreira2004-2013
Albert Ferrer1998-2003
Juliano Belletti2007-2010
B/R

           

4. Left-backs/wing-backs

Chelsea's English defender Ashley Cole gestures to Chelsea fans following the English Premier League football match between Cardiff City and Chelsea at the Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff on May 11, 2014.  Chelsea won 2-1. AFP PHOTO/BEN STANSALL - RESTRIC
BEN STANSALL/Getty Images

By the same measure as above, we're doubling up the left-sided defenders here. And the lefties just about edge it over their right-sided counterparts on account of Ashley Cole's presence.

Look through our top eight for each position and they're just about on a par throughout. For Moses, think Marcos Alonso on the left; for Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea boasted a peak Graeme Le Saux in the early and late 1990s.

But for Cole, he was the best in the world in his position for close to a decade and much of that time was spent at Chelsea. He was England's No. 1 left-back and the world's as well. He was exceptional, excelling far beyond what Ivanovic did.

Top 8 Left-backs/Wing-backs
Ashley Cole2006-2014
Graeme Le Saux1989-1993 and 1997-2003
Marcos Alonso2016-Present
Wayne Bridge2003-2009
Scott Minto1994-1997
Celestine Babayaro1997-2005
Terry Phelan1995-1997
Jon Harley1997-2001
B/R

           

3. Strikers

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 24:  Didier Drogba of Chelsea celebrates with team mates and the trophy  after the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 24, 2015 in London, England. Chelsea were crowned Premier Leagu
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Chelsea fans sometimes curse their luck when it comes to strikers, the notion being the Blues don't always invest well in goalscorers.

Looking at this list, they're going to have to rethink that perception; Chelsea's Premier League strikers have been frightening.

From the bottom of our top eight and upwards, Chelsea's top frontmen have all been fearsome in front of goal.

Gianluca Vialli and Mark Hughes had a big impact in the late 1990s despite being the wrong side of 30, while the goals of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen gave Chelsea one of the Premier League's best partnerships pre-Roman Abramovich's arrival.

And then there is Diego Costa, who has broken all sorts of goalscoring records for Chelsea in the three years he has been with the club. Regardless of his current problems off the pitch, he remains one of Europe's finest frontmen.

Peak Didier Drogba: Was there a more effective forward in world football?

Top 8 Strikers
Didier Drogba2004-2012 and 2014-15
Diego Costa2014-Present
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink2000-2004
Eidur Gudjohnsen2000-2006
Nicolas Anelka2008-2012
Hernan Crespo2003-2008
Mark Hughes1995-1998
Gianluca Vialli1996-1999
B/R

           

2. Attacking midfielders

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea poses with the Premier League trophy after the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

It takes something special to deny the likes of Costa, Drogba, Hasselbaink and Gudjohnsen; and Chelsea's attacking midfielders in the Premier League era about to do it.

Remember, we're not just looking at the best players in a Chelsea shirt here: we're assessing those in the wider picture and where they stood in the Premier League at the time of playing. So, when it comes to attacking midfielders, is there a better player in England now than Eden Hazard?

The PFA Player of the Year awards suggest there isn't, with the Belgian winning it in 2015.

Going through the list, Gianfranco Zola was named the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year in 1996/97, having played three months less than any of his peers (he joined Chelsea in November).

Arjen Robben was a phenomenon in the first two seasons he spent at Chelsea. His partnership with Damien Duff on the flanks terrorised defences as the Blues waltzed their way to back-to-back titles.

Top 8 Attacking Midfielders
Eden Hazard2012-Present
Gianfranco Zola1996-2003
Arjen Robben2004-2007
Joe Cole2003-2010
Pedro2015-Present
Willian2013-Present
Florent Malouda2007-2013
Damien Duff2003-2006
B/R

           

1. Central/defensive midfielders

: Chelsea's British midfielder Frank Lampard holds the trophy after the UEFA Champions League final football match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Chelsea FC on May 19, 2012 at the Fussball Arena stadium in Munich. Chelsea won 4-3 in the penalty phase.  AF
ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

The biggest strength Chelsea have boasted in the Premier League era has often been with their midfield. From the early days of Dennis Wise, the Blues later added names such as Hoddle, Emmanuel Petit and others who also don't make our top eight here.

And that's for good reason, as those we have selected here weren't just fine servants in blue, they were among the best the Premier League could offer in their prime.

How many players have had a position named after them in the history of football? Claude Makelele is certainly the only one in the Premier League. Now N'Golo Kante is threatening to usurp him by having it amended with his own stamp of authority.

Top 8 Central/Defensive Midfielders
Frank Lampard2001-2014
Claude Makelele2003-2008
N’Golo Kante2016-Present
Michael Essien2005-2014
Cesc Fabregas2014-Present
Dennis Wise1990-2001
Roberto Di Matteo1996-2002
Michael Ballack2006-2010
B/R

Top of the list is Frank Lampard. There hasn't been a better player in the Premier League at doing what he did in a Chelsea shirt.

In the same way Makelele changed perceptions of what defensive midfielders were, Lampard's goals meant a box-to-box midfielder's barometer for success was just as much about him putting the ball in the back of the net as it was his all-round contribution.

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